Should universities teach commercial awareness as part of the legal curriculum?

September 24, 2021


3 min read

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What's going on here?

Commercial awareness essentially underpins all business, whether identifying growing marketplaces or the consequences of conflicting industry objectives, the achievements of collaborative mergers or even the wider determinants of social, economic or technological factors. All of these components formulate the environment in which businesses not only seek to survive in, but ultimately thrive. So, if commercial awareness is so important, should Universities be teaching it?

What do universities currently offer?

To an extent, commercial awareness courses are already available. For example, the Open University offers a non-credit bearing short course costing ÂŁ305 and the University of Exeter offers a self enrolment commercial awareness course. However, for the most part, Universities tend to adopt a voluntary approach through their career services. Whilst the University of Birmingham offers a commercial awareness taught module as part of their Personal Skills Award, various other Universities such as University College London and University of Bristol direct students to their career resources portals. Such availability indicates that Universities do recognise the importance of commercial awareness and there are support mechanisms in place for students to utilise. Nevertheless, the success of this career services system is dependent on individual students seeking out these opportunities. From this perspective, this may result in knowledge gaps in those who are unaware of the importance of commercial knowledge throughout job applications.

Why make the change?

So the question therefore stands as to why so many Universities continue to retain traditional legal curriculums? Beyond the career services themselves, there are various student societies which seek to convey the importance of commercial awareness. In addition, by attending Law Fairs, firms do emphasise the importance of it. However, it remains an uphill struggle for students who do engage with news outlets, podcasts and Ted Talks which address commercial issues without the knowledge of how to apply it within the workplace or even daily life in a constructive manner. Therefore, even with the existing mechanisms in place to enable one’s growth in commercial awareness, the opportunity to be taught it and learn to apply it within a specific educational setting would ultimately do more good than harm. With Universities offering nicher modules in areas such as Roman Law or enabling optional module choices in other departments, the incorporation of a commercial awareness module could be highly beneficial.

What would a commercial awareness module include?

A proposed manner in which a commercial awareness module could be structured is an employability focused module which predominantly focuses on building practical commercial awareness skills. Although dependent upon one’s Law School, many Universities have already successfully integrated modules focused on building “lawyering skills” in negotiation, advocacy and mooting by incorporating these into the legal curriculum. Rather than Universities relying on student uptake of extra curricular activities, a commercial awareness module in itself could therefore provide students with the ultimate exposure to build upon one’s business acumen and awareness of global developments, which are fundamental skills employers are searching for due to their transplantability to both the legal industry and elsewhere. Most significantly however, the prospect of a compulsory commercial awareness module becoming integrated into University curriculums could also provide the unique opportunity for students to distinguish themselves among other applicants aspiring towards similar goals of vacation schemes and training contracts, since the introduction of the SQE streamlines legal education regardless of whether a law degree has been completed. If Universities offered this exclusive module, it would demonstrate a level of engagement with commercial developments, news and business which is difficult to prove otherwise. This suggests a positive impact in not only improving student knowledge, but the overall employability of students from a recruitment perspective.

Ultimately, to state that Universities do not already teach commercial awareness would not be wholly accurate. However, Universities can do more to increase student engagement with commercial awareness, create more opportunities for students to engage with it within the legal curriculum, and  also broaden student mindsets as to the realities of global commercial developments. Whilst these observations are University dependent and there are varying outlooks on the modules which should be incorporated into legal curriculums, the teaching of commercial awareness should be embraced and not disregarded. Essentially, it provides greater insight into the realities and development of commerce in the world around us on a day-to-day basis, as well as when seeking to provide effective solutions for clients in the workplace.

Report written by a LittleLaw Reporter

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